TOPEKA, Kan. -- Voters in Kansas overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment yesterday to ban same-sex couples from marrying or entering into civil unions.
With more than half of the precincts reporting, 276,876 votes, or 69 percent, were cast in favor of a constitutional amendment, with 121,836 votes, or 31 percent, opposed.
Gay marriage is already banned under Kansas law, and the law is not being challenged. But supporters of the ballot measure said the ban must be in the Kansas Constitution to insulate it from legal challenge.
''The marriage amendment is an unfortunate, necessary reaction to activist courts," said Republican state Attorney General Phill Kline.
Among the opponents was Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who said she supported the existing state law and viewed it as sufficient.
''I don't think we need a constitutional amendment, and particularly a constitutional amendment that goes far beyond the bounds of that law," she said.
Kansas became the 18th state to put a prohibition against same-sex marriage in its constitution, and the 14th to pass such an amendment since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision in 2003 that legalized same-sex marriage in that state.
Alabama, South Dakota, and Tennessee plan elections next year on constitutional bans, and proposals are pending in 13 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Meanwhile, Connecticut's Senate was prepared to vote today on a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. The bill has wide support in both Democratic-controlled chambers of the Legislature.
In Kansas and elsewhere, the argument that a constitutional amendment is necessary was bolstered when a San Francisco judge ruled March 14 that California's law against gay marriage violates the California Constitution.
''That's precisely what I would like to see prevented here in Kansas," said a supporter of the proposed amendment, Dan Robison, a retired banker and Air Force pilot from Wichita who has been married 49 years.
Members of Congress, including Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, continue to press the issue at the federal level.
The Knights of Columbus, the nation's largest lay organization for Roman Catholics, donated $100,000 to supporters of the Kansas amendment, giving them a 4-to-1 fund-raising advantage.
Bill Rich, a law professor at Topeka's Washburn University who opposed the Kansas proposal, said he doubts courts in other states would issue rulings similar to the one in California. In California, he said, courts have long held that the California Constitution offers greater protections than the US Constitution.
Gay activists in Kansas warned that the measure on yesterday's ballot could prove to be especially oppressive.
The amendment not only reinforces the long-standing definition of marriage as being a union of one man and one women, but also declares that only those marriages are entitled to the ''rights and incidents" of marriage.
That, the opponents of the amendment argued, could ban civil unions and prevent companies from offering health benefits to employees' partners, gay or heterosexual.